Samuel, a highly placed executive in a large international firm, called late one afternoon recently. After we chatted about the slow economy and the horror of a few weeks ago, he got to the point of the call. Could I recommend someone for a senior level, strategic position in his firm? I am frequently the recipient of job announcements and often get calls asking me to recommend people for a variety of positions. Samuel’s call is only one of several I have received in the past month from business executives looking for people who can help them meet the challenges they face. Even in these uncertain times, and even though many of the firms that are calling are laying people off, there is always a need for key talent. But the question these calls bring to my mind is a simple one, and not hard to answer. Why don’t they go to their own recruiting staff or recruiting manager to get recommendations? The answer may seem straightforward – those outside the company know more people or have a better network – but it is really much more complex. Most executives I know go around their recruiters for several reasons.
- Lack of business credibility. Other executives, business owners, even search consultants rank higher in perceived business acumen than recruiters. And, in reality, most recruiters are not business savvy. They often don’t really understand the business or its products and services, and may not even know how the organization is doing financially. I have worked with recruiters who could tell you all the details involved in doing a particular job, but had no idea how the firm was perceived, who its competitors were, or even where all its offices were located. The cure: Use this slower time to learn everything you can about your organization: what it does, how it has done financially over the past five years, and what its prospects are for the next five. Learn how to scan the annual report for critical facts about growth prospects, philosophies, and potential lawsuits or negative issues that could affect a candidate’s decision. The more you know about the business – and the more you let senior management know that you know – the more highly you will be regarded. Without this basic level of respect from management, you will never get the inside information or the choice recruiting assignment.
- Confidentiality. Many executives believe that internal recruiters won’t keep their searches confidential and that other executives or managers will learn about openings or discover that someone is about to leave. Insider knowledge can affect decision making and have an impact on the profitability of the organization, so executives tend to be very cautious. By going to one of their acquaintances or outside experts, many executives believe they are building a layer of security that is lacking internally. The cure: Recruiters have to establish a gold plated reputation for confidentiality. If you are a recruiter, you must make sure that you tell only authorized people of the hiring plans in your company. If you are a recruiting manager, you have to become trusted and you have to give assignments only to those recruiters you know can treat the information wisely.
- Competence. Your recruiting record, past performance, and how well you have communicated your success to management will all be part of whether you get the confidential searches. You need to show that your business knowledge, connections, and background are strong enough to put you in the know about key individuals who could fit your organization’s needs. Many executives I talk to are very dubious about whether or not their recruiters are strategic enough or well connected enough to know any of the key people they might consider hiring. If you are thought of as a clerk, you will never be taken into their confidence or given the best assignments. The cure: Get out and about. As I have said in previous articles, this is a time to get out of the office and build the networks that will make you successful when things turn around. Spend time taking people to lunch or dinner and try to get invited to the activities where the kinds of people your firm would employ meet. This may mean joining associations, attending Rotary meetings, taking active roles on committees or in volunteer groups, or joining local charities. Also, take the time to learn how to communicate what you are doing to senior management. This does not mean “tooting your own horn,” as they say. It means making sure you use the principles of public relations and advertising to deliver a positive message about you and your team.
- Speed. Can you offer possible candidates as quickly as an outside search consultant or colleague of the hiring manager? This is really the heart of your job, and the best recruiters will already have taken advantage of slow times to identify key players. They will have started developing communication strategies to let potential candidates know about opportunities and to get them acquainted with the organization if they aren’t already. The cure: Streamline processes, develop relationship-oriented databases of key people, build a network that can help you, pre-qualify agencies that can work with you as a partner to find the best people. Speed is often the result of having built the right networks and forging relationships before the need for them arises.
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Guide: Practical Tips for Remote Hiring
Nothing here is new or unusual. You know what you need to do, and this downturn gives you the opportunity and time to tackle them one-by-one. Success is built on skills, communications, and perseverance. The recruiter who uses these times to relax, let her skills slide, who doesn’t stay up-to-date and who doesn’t work toward better business skills will not be around for the next act.